Is Tap Water Bad For Plants? The Impact of Water Quality on Plants
Beginner plant care can seem obvious at first - good potting mix, the right sized pot, and an adequate amount of water to keep your babies healthy and hydrated.
But you may take a look at the tap water in your home, and feel a bit nervous. Maybe it looks murky or tastes a little like chlorine. If you’re willing to drink it, it must be safe for your plants, right?
Not exactly. But don’t freak out - we’re not here to tell you that you’re a bad plant owner! Instead, we’re going to investigate how water quality can impact them, so you can make sure that you’re watering as safely as possible.
So let’s tackle the main question on your mind. Is tap water bad for plants, or are you being a hypochondriac by proxy?
What You Should Know About Tap Water
Well, it’s a yes and a no. What we can say for sure, is that most tap water is ok to use for plants. But in some places, tap water can be unhealthy and potentially cause problems. It all depends on your water supply.
There are a variety of factors that can affect your water use. Below we’ve listed the issues that can arise when you use poor-quality tap waterr, so you know what to look out for.
Chlorine is a no-no for two reasons. First, chlorine can kill bacteria and microorganisms in garden soil that may be beneficial for your plants. And second, high levels of chlorine can damage the roots of your plants. This can be worrying when you know that “treated” water is often chlorinated to disinfect municipal water supplies.
Fortunately, most tap water has low levels of chlorine that won’t be directly detrimental to your plants. But if you’re still concerned, simply check the smell of your tap water. If you can smell chlorine, it likely has unusually high chlorine levels. You only need to fill your watering vessel with tap water and leave it for 24-hours before watering your plants. The chlorine will evaporate over this period.
Many water supplies contain heavy metals, which can inhibit the growth of your plants. Fortunately, most municipal water supplies only have low levels of heavy metals. If you often source water from an alternate water source, such as a well or nearby body of water, you may want to test a sample before continuing to use it.
Fluoride is a mineral that is often used to treat water supplies, which is unfortunate for your plants. Enough of it can disrupt the photosynthesis of your plants, and when it builds up over time it can become toxic.
Fluoride content in water can vary widely from state to state, so you may want to contact your local water authority for more information on the fluoride content of your water supply.
Calcium and Magnesium
Tap water contains calcium and magnesium, which are not inherently bad. In fact, calcium and magnesium can be really useful for plant health! But when you’re nurturing your plants with water that has high levels of either, they can build up in your soil over time. Excessive levels can lead to root dehydration and inhibited growth, which can have a devastating effect on your plants.
Too much calcium can change the pH levels in your soil, which can deprive certain plants of much-needed acidity. It can also cancel out the effects of other nutrients in the soil. On the other hand, too much magnesium can also stop calcium from doing its job.
If you notice a white, powder-like film on the surface of your soil, you may have calcium and magnesium build-up on your hands. To remedy this, you need to leach your soil with large amounts of water, flushing out these accumulated salts. We recommend using distilled water or rainwater for this process.
How To Ensure Safe Water For Your Plants
Water quality can affect your plants to a degree, depending on a couple of factors. But luckily, there are multiple ways to ensure that the water you are using is safe for plants!
Keep An Eye On Temperature
Keep your plants happy with room temperature water, approximately 90 degrees. Using cold water can prevent them from flowering, and hot water can cause stress to leaves and roots. Also avoid watering your plants after morning hours, as heated soil will raise the temperature of the water you use.
Get Your Water Tested
In most places you can pay to have your water tested, so you can find out the levels of chemicals, minerals, and metals in your water. If testing is out of your price range, take a look online as you might find a helpful quality report from your local water authority.
Replace Your Water Source
If you’re concerned about your tap water supply, collecting rainwater is a great alternative. All you need is an outdoor rain barrel or some other large open vessel that can be left outside to collect rainwater. That way you can ensure that your plants are getting water completely free of chemicals and minerals.
Consider Filtered or Distilled Water
Some plant owners like to buy bottled filtered water to ensure completely clean water for their plants. This can be expensive, so some opt to purchase a water filter instead. Water filters will clear your water of chemicals and contaminants, but it can still cost a pretty penny for a filter that does the job.
Water Them Properly
Watering plants properly is just as important as ensuring safe water for them. And in fact, not doing so can have a worse effect overall than over-treated tap water.
Just like us humans, too much water will drown your plants, and not enough will dehydrate them. And unfortunately, the right amount can vary greatly depending on plant type. It’s important to know how much water your plant needs. Lucky for us there are plenty of sources to choose from!
If you have been using tap water that you think could be bad for your plants, don’t feel too guilty. Tap water is cheap and readily available, and most people use it for watering their plants. As we mentioned above, most tap water really is ok to use.
It all depends on the water in question. If you think your tap water isn’t up to snuff, it’s up to you to take the right precautions to make sure you’re using the right type of water. If in doubt, rule it out! There are always good alternatives, like those listed above. As long as you’re paying attention, your botanical babies will grow and thrive.